North Carolina Cooperative Extension

Article Source: 14 JUN 2015.

Youth and Economic Development

Person reporting: Sharon English  Location: Scotland County  Updated 2014-03-05

Scotland County youth experiencing court involvement, school failure, out of home placement and limited resources are considered an exceptionally high-risk group.  Specifically, youth with these risk factors have high rates of adult incarceration, substance abuse, early mortality, school dropout, chronic unemployment and poor health outcomes.Growing Change in Scotland County

Growing Change in Scotland County

 In fall of 2011, Scotland County Cooperative Extension met with a licensed mental health therapist who had developed a clinical pilot program that combined intensive therapy, gardening, and service learning. The target audience was a group of ten male youths, ages 14 – 17, considered Dispositional II, one step away from incarceration, and who had been placed out-of-home, out-of- school and on probation.

 This unique partnership of NC Cooperative Extension, NC A&T State University, NC State University, Department of Public Safety, UNC-Pembroke, local agencies, citizens and the faith community is supporting the start-up non-profit,, whose goal is to transform small closed rural prisons into sustainable farms and educational centers.  One such former prison is located in Scotland County, in the town of Wagram.

 The primary goal of is to “flip” former prison sites, beginning with the former Wagram prison site, into working farms that provide educational sites for youth to complete court-mandated community service hours and to divert youth from court who are facing problems in school or the community.

Additionally, veterans and their families will benefit from hands-on residential internships while completing their degree work.  Combining court diversions for youth, residential internships for veterans, school modules, wellness programs, summer camps for underserved youth and recreational trails through 76 acres of agroforestry land, the Wagram site would serve hundreds annually.  Also, neighboring UNC-Pembroke plans to field some of its’ sustainable agriculture tract at the former prison site.   In the fifth year, supported by a working model, plans to send out additional ‘Reclamation Teams’ to help other communities “flip their prison”.

 Initial programing efforts with began in 2012 and included the development of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program that provided fresh vegetables to nine families identified as at- risk for food insecurity. The youth planted, harvested and donated food from the Wagram Community Garden (an NC A&T State University CYFAR-Children Youth and Families At Risk grant sponsored garden), a church community garden and a high tunnel greenhouse at the local high school.  The youth surpassed their initial goal of harvesting their combined weight in produce.  A total of 1,826 pounds of produce (including watermelon, tomatoes, cantaloupe, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and herbs) was delivered to the families, with overflow donated to the local food bank and domestic violence shelter.  The youth continued to utilize the three sites in 2013 to harvest and donate food.  Additionally, the youth added a small flower production in 2012 and included flowers with the food donations.  However, in 2013 their flower harvest was enjoyed by our local deer population.

Composting was added to both the Wagram and Laurinburg Community gardens.  The building of the three-bin compost systems for the gardens required the youth to engage in the selection, planning and execution of a design.  For the majority of the youth, it was the first time they had used tools to build anything.  The youth have volunteered to assist with the ongoing maintenance of the bins and gardener compost training at both sites.

 Beekeeping was another area of interest to the youth.  After identifying a local beekeeper and attending his workshop on managing an apiary program, the youth decided to approach the Wagram Community Garden members on incorporating bees.  Following approval from the gardeners, the youth group selected a member, who has a great respect for all animals and insects, to be responsible for the care and maintenance of the hive.  This young man organized his team in constructing a bee box for the hive.  The bees were incorporated into the Wagram Community Garden in the fall and the youth and volunteer beekeeper are feeding the hive through the winter.

The youth visited NC A&T State University for a guided campus and farm tour. This was an important day.  These young men do not have people in their lives that attended college, and can guide them in the resume building and college application process.  Care was taken by NC A&T State University staff to put people in place to encourage and motivate these young men throughout the day.  Following this visit, the young men began to realize that with focused effort, college could become a reality in their future.  The youth returned to NC A&T State University in the spring of 2013 to lead a panel discussion on youth entrepreneurship at the Grassroots Leadership Conference.  During the panel discussion, the team shared their individual stories and showcased their work in the county.  Two years ago, these youth would not have been comfortable (or invited) to participate in an event like this.  However, through their involvement in the Cooperative Extension programs, trainings and leadership development opportunities, their confidence and self-efficacy has blossomed.  One powerful moment came when one of the young men shared that his family name had a negative reputation in the county.  He was always told he would follow in the footsteps of his family members.  He shared that he was most proud of the fact that through his continued hard work and focused efforts, he will flip his future and prove many people wrong.

The youth team has visited NC State University on several occasions, one of which was to attend a vermi-culture workshop leading to the group producing their own vermi-compost.  One of the youth members established a personal vermi-culture business, for which he was honored as the youngest panelist at the Rural Center of North Carolina’s symposium on youth entrepreneurism.  Another educational experience was provided through a weeklong NC State University horticulture camp.  This camp provided the youth a broad hands-on opportunity to explore horticulture by learning about: fruit and vegetable breeding practices, growing of woody ornamentals, cut flowers, and sustainable production practice and plant production.  Additionally, the camp included visits to local horticulture businesses, which provided an opportunity for the youth to have first hand exposure to career possibilities.  The training not only provided the youth with tools to assist them in their gardening efforts, but with the majority of them having traveled no more than a two county distance, the camp allowed them to experience life on a major university campus.

The group has also learned the importance of community service and the rewards of making a difference in the lives of others. The team recently collaborated with the faith-based Partners In Health and Wholeness to present an organic gardening workshop to sixty church youth from a six county region.  The youth have seen first-hand elderly gardeners moved to tears when they offered to assist them in their garden plots.  They have provided landscaping improvements for both community gardens and prepared the garden beds for a local elementary school.  Additionally, living the value of “re-use”, they worked with school leadership to plant and manage the high school greenhouse to prevent it from lying dormant during the summer months.  This is a crucial moment for these youth to be in such positions that community members actively praise them.  Many of these youth had never been in our local paper, nor recognized for any accomplishments.   These positive experiences and opportunities have become a clinical tool to help parents reconnect to pride in their sons.

These young men were headed to prison but “flipped” this future to become today’s leaders.  Now they are the youth leadership in the larger initiative to flip a small closed prison in Wagram, North Carolina.  On December 9th, 2013 on the 14th floor of Raleigh’s Archdale building, two of the youth members shared the plan to convert the Wagram prison into a sustainable farm and educational center to Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Executive Leadership Team.  DPS approved the plan and testing funded by a $200,000 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant will begin in March.  The Wagram prison site flip will be a national first per EPA.

In August, the NC State University School of Design students will begin to develop a site model. Youth once gang recruited and who were on probation are now leading DPS in developing a nationally innovative and replicable model. This team is “flipping” prominent county environmental hazards into one of the county’s most productive environmental assets.

“Annual costs for involvement by the Juvenile Youth Development Center (YDC) is $102,000 per youth. Initially the nine youth were one step away from a YDC commitment. However, with all nine youth avoiding incarceration, the state realized a potential $918,000 in annual savings”.

(Currently there are two decorated war veterans that are part of the coalition to flip the prison.  However, when the sustainable farm and agriculture center is completed, it will be open to all veterans, both combat and non-combat, who are pursuing their college education.)

NC Cooperative Extension Article